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The World Without You

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It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.

The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.

Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.

321 pages, Hardcover

First published June 19, 2012

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About the author

Joshua Henkin

6 books262 followers
Joshua Henkin's new novel, MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, has recently been published by Pantheon. He is also the author of the novels SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book; MATRIMONY, a New York Times Notable Book; and THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, which was named an Editors' Choice Book by The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune and was the winner of the 2012 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American Fiction and a finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. He lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn, NY, and directs and teaches in the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.

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5 stars
434 (13%)
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1,041 (31%)
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1,259 (38%)
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110 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 588 reviews
Profile Image for Suz.
1,049 reviews533 followers
May 2, 2016
Very enjoyable premise, but just lacking oomph for me though I am afraid. I loved the storyline and enjoyed most of the cast of characters. Subconsciously the third book in a row with a Jewish theme, I’ve probably overloaded on that too. I think I lack understanding, and that realistically is impacting on my enjoyment. My issue, not the author's of course!

Leo’s family meet up for the memorial weekend/one-year celebration of his death. With this comes family baggage to the extreme. His once promiscuous sister, but now fully-fledged Orthodox Jew, returns home from Israel - was my fave. Another sister facing her own problems with fertility, and another sister with yet more problems (but I can't remember what they were, I'm so bad). His poor widow, Thisbe, trying to find her way with a difficult mother in law, has some secrets too. She's a strong lady though, refusing (I thought well deserved) help from the very interesting and very rich Grandmother in her 90's.

Loved the idea, just didn’t love ‘it’. The writing was great, with some really nice descriptive scenes of New York and its surrounds, but for me it needed more spark. The ones on the front cover didn't quite fit in!
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews651 followers
January 2, 2016

“Rich, deep, funny, and wise, this is a sumptuous layer cake of a novel whose ordinary yet urgent dramas remind us that family is where it all begins. Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity and talent.” Julia Glass, author of The Widower's Tale

“An immeasurably moving masterpiece that tracks the intricate threads connecting children to parents, sisters to brothers, wives to husbands. To say 'I cared' about these characters would be to hugely understate their consuming effect on me.” Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers

For myself, I feel a yearning for the Frankel family that I have not felt for fictional people for a long time. I imagine their lives continuing somewhere, all the while coping with the void that was their son and their brother. How can I mourn a character in a book? Especially when the character was deceased before the story began. Nevertheless, I mourned not knowing Leo, the You in The World Without You.

Stirring and profound, this exquisite portrayal of a family will make you personally care for the characters. This sublime novel by Henkin earns itself a place in my top books for this year. 4★
Profile Image for Rebecca.
70 reviews
August 31, 2012
This book was written as if the author just liked to read his own writing - like a person who talks just to hear his own voice.

The present-tense narrative was clunky and almost unbearable by the halfway point of the book. "Now" and "then" were overused in the story telling (i.e., "Now she is playing badminton" and "Then they're in Lily's van.") Flat, boring characters with dull dialogue.

Certain items were unrealistic/seem to have missed the editing process:

1)"They're both three, though Calder is quick to point out that he's two months older than Ari." (p. 124) Three year old children don't argue about their age in months -- maybe 5 year-olds would.

2) "He's holding something himself -- a four-leaf clover..." (p. 124) Really? Do these really exist??

3) "She has brought him a bowl of ice cream, which she lays now at her feet." (p. 135) Who lays a bowl of ice cream on the floor?

4) "...because Wyeth and I might move in together. He'll be on the phone machine." (p. 152) "Phone machine"??? Who, besides my own mother, uses an answering machine in the 21st century?

5) "If she had taken out a life insurance policy, she'd have refused to cash it in." (p. 158) Now, honestly, no matter the cause of death, who in their right mind refuses the insurance payout?

6) p. 162 -- They "sit down on the concrete steps" while they are already sitting down on wood chips.

7) Noelle, the Orthodox Jew, has flown to the US from Israel with her own food because she doesn't trust her parent to provide kosher meals. On p. 168, she is eating pastrami. PASTRAMI? She somehow transported lunch meat and a weekend's worth of meals for a family of 6 on a transatlantic flight?

8) "She discovered [her retroverted uterus] when she was 12, at her first gynecological check-up." (p. 184) Really? Age 12??

9)" 'I remember being a teenager and wanting you to die, Mom, ... because I thought I'd do a better job with Leo.' Marilyn, smiling, raises her hand in front of her as if to say she understands." (p. 209) She "understands" this ridiculous statement and the reason for it??

10) "downward incline" (p. 230) Is there such a thing?

11) "Someone is playing 'Sweet Baby James' on a boom box" (p. 230) Nobody has a boom box anymore.

12) Amram's crumpled jeans, having been worn for 2 days, "bear an uncanny resemblance to elephant skin." (p. 242) Strange metaphor.

13) On the final day of the story, everyone wakes up and begins packing their bags to prepare for their trips home. They have breakfast, which takes forever and includes egg salad sandwiches and cucumber sandwiches (???) Then they are setting up Monopoly, playing solitaire, sunbathing out back, packing some more. How does all this happen in one morning before catching flights?
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,286 reviews637 followers
September 2, 2012
Dark, dark, dark…….are families really this sad, cruel and dark??? Henkin uses this book as a political statement (yes, I get it, you hate Bush). I found his politics distracting to the story. The characters in the book have very little redeeming qualities. They are all so sad….and so cruel to each other, which I found heart-wrenching. This book is a portrait of a family family who is drawn even further apart by tragedy, who see each other as each was when they were children(and at their worse). No one sees each other as they are now, as they've grown to be. It is very well written…a very well-written depressing book. It's a book about families at their worse and darkest time. I read it for book club and I'm glad I read it as it's a notable book and he's a notable author.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
814 reviews746 followers
September 21, 2013
In the Berkshires, during an enervating July Fourth weekend, three generations of Frankels gather together in 2005 for a memorial to their beloved son, brother, and spouse, Leo Frankel, a journalist who was kidnapped and killed in the Iraq War the previous year. As memories of Leo float through the narrative, old resentments and new secrets float to the top like crude oil in a jar of hearts. Henkin didn’t break any new contextual ground here. He was going for the familiar themes of loss, perseverance, understanding, love despite all, forgiveness, and redemption within a garden-variety package tied up with some stock twine.

You’ve seen this family before in domestic dramas: the 21st century elite, pedigreed, liberal, secular family with a few black sheep conservatives. Just about all the Ivy League or first tier colleges are represented, and those who didn’t obtain their PhDs or MDs are smarter than the ones who did.

One of the three beautiful daughters, Noelle, seems overtly fabricated. Henkin is trying to convince the reader that Noelle was once a sex-obsessed alley cat who moved to Israel and, par to the characteristic flip side of the personal coin, became an Orthodox Jew, with the support of her American husband, also turned Orthodox Jewish. A portrayal of two extremes in one person is not an unusual profile, and in fact is a prevalent human composition.

However, I was not convinced that first-incarnation Noelle was anything but a free spirit--refreshing and curious, independent and phase-healthy. Her morphing into a compulsive Orthodox, adhering so rigidly that they even bring their own Kosher food from Israel to this weekend, rejecting the Kosher food offered by her parents, was patently unbelievable. Henkin was attempting to show a woman who, at different times, embraced opposite ends of the same continuum. But, I never felt he authenticated second-incarnation Noelle with the antecedent, obsessive traits required to appropriate her inflexible, almost morbid religiosity.

Leo’s parents, Marilyn and David, age 69, plan to announce their impending divorce to the clan. The author was demonstrating the statistically frequent rate of divorce that occurs between couples that have lost a child. But, Leo was not a child—he had a wife and child of his own. And, the elders’ breakup seemed contrived; it wasn’t convincingly organic, but rather a limply constructed story device.

There were other scenes and events that felt hatched rather than natural. It had the mainstream moue of a nighttime series, a repackaged but prosaic, recycled SISTERS BROTHERS-type entertainment.

MINOR SPOILER PARAGRAPH. The biggest stretch was to accept Thisbe’s (the widow) Calvinistic-type altruism in the face of a gift of two-hundred thousand dollars from the obscenely rich matriarch, 94-yr-old Gretchen, mother of David. Gretchen gave this check to Thisbe some time after Leo died, with no overt strings attached. Sure, with Gretchen, there were always Machievellian manipulations. But at 94? How menacing could she really be?? Again, another contrivance that I didn’t believe. And, the struggling grad student Thisbe, raising her and Leo’s son, refusing to cash the check out of issues of guilt, because she had fallen in love again at age thirty-two? She was barely getting by in Berkeley with her new partner. I find it difficult to swallow Thisbe’s altruism, her rationale for refusing help for her and Leo’s son, at least!

Henkin has a way with words--the figurative and aphoristic turn of phrase. These delightful nuggets peppered the story throughout, and provided a prose-rich sum of parts. However, the story itself remained rather bland and predictable. The memorial service, which was the intended highlight of the gathering, was anti-climactic, buttressed largely by the individual tributes. The sentiments weren’t enough to depict the event, except sketchily, and gave the special day a static representation.

The novel, while eloquent at intervals, did not consummately satisfy. Instead, the conventional arc was held together with chiefly reductive portraits and some pithy dialogue. A bit banal, with reflective moments. 3.25

Thank you to Net Galley for providing me an e-copy.
463 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2013
THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henkin

Henkin, as in MATRIMONY his first book, is a wonderful writer. Unfortunately, I don’t know ANY of his characters. But more importantly, I don’t WANT to know them. The father is distant, the mother is self-absorbed. Clarissa, who has turned her back on a career as a cellist, is unhappy with her current life and sure a child – HER child, and only HER child - will complete her world. Lily is angry at everyone for unknown and unknowable reasons. Noelle, a wild child to the extreme, has become an orthodox Jew, sure that only blindly following every jot and title of every law will fulfill her. Thisbe, the widow of the only son of the family, valiantly tries to remain normal. Who are these unhappy people? Surely there must be someone Henkin can write about that is at least marginally happy. If there was a happy ending to this book, I could not find it. I was not looking for a saccharine sweet book, I was just hoping for something other than unrelieved unhappiness. I’ll look for another author for my next book.
Profile Image for Chris Dietzel.
Author 26 books394 followers
August 30, 2016
This would be a 3 1/2 star rating, but leave it to GoodReads to ignore users requesting the ability to give half stars in favor of completely redoing the homepage in a way everyone despises. Keep up the great work, Goodreads!

As for this book, if you want a perfectly executed dysfunctional family reunion, I highly recommend Hannah Pittard's Reunion.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
Author 2 books16 followers
May 16, 2012
I would really like to give this book four and a HALF stars, but alas, that is not an option on Goodreads. So I rounded up.

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin is a novel about a big family coping with the death of a son and brother, one year after the tragedy. The novel is mostly dialogue (excellent dialogue). It contains many miniscule details (for example, washing the dishes details) that are at once amazing and irritating, but always impressive.

I like details, but they can wear on some readers (or so my ex-agent once told me, when she explained why I'd written "an award winning novel" that she wasn't even going to try to sell. This novel still lives on a thumb drive).

The details and the dialogue and the lack of serious action in The World Without You make this book clearly "literary." Enjoy the novel for its characters and the poignancy of their respective dilemmas. The novel is at once timeless and a wonderful reflection of a certain point in time (the inexplicable re-election of George W. Bush; the senseless deaths of innocents caused by the Iraq war).

From the standpoint of a fiction writer, one MUST read Henkin's newest novel for its amazing characterization and dialogue. It's like Anne Tyler, but amplified. (Anne Tyler never disappoints.) If you're trying to teach writing students what is meant by "round" characters, THIS is what is meant.

I did not love all the characters in the novel, but that's okay, because I was still interested in them, and I still wanted to try to understand them. I could not always picture the characters, but that is okay, because I can use my imagination.

What I did not have to imagine, what I could really feel, was the way each character was lost in past memories while dealing with the current demands of life. The omniscient POV here was very impressive.

I am an only child, but I could understand the complex dynamics of a family holed up together in a country house. There was an intentional stagnant quality to their being almost trapped together in this house, awaiting a memorial service for the dead son/brother. This is a universal feeling that anyone who has parents and/or siblings (and in-laws) can relate to.

Joshua Henkin does a masterful job capturing life and turning it into art. This novel feels very real, and it will leave you thinking and reminiscing long after you turn the last page.
Profile Image for Libsue.
44 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2013
Someone vital and important to you has died. Sitting in a room accepting condolences from neighbors, friends and family the world seems so unreal. You're busy with death and the after effects. The shiva calls end or the wake is over and everyone goes home. Looking out the window the world has gone on. Children play games with their friends. Husbands and wives go to work, eat dinner, lay down with one another. But you just sit and wonder how can life go on without the one you love?
One year after the death of their only son Leo, a reporter in Iraq who was kidnapped and murdered while on assignment, Marilyn and David Frankel request the presence of their adult daughters and Leo's widow and young son at a ceremony to remember Leo. Each character is dealing not only with the loss of Leo, but with personal and familial difficutlies (infertility, mistimed love, moving on, marital strife, etc.)
At it's essence this book is about family. Yes, there is a political bent, but that's life - No? Yes, it does feel as though Joshua Henkin has included a political perspective regarding the war in Iraq. Is this his perspective or is it the perspective of the characters? His characters were so perfectly written it would be impossible to believe that they felt otherwise.
Is Mr. Henkin permitted to express views that might be in opposition to others? You bet. That is the beauty free speach.
What is important about The World Without You is the truth of the family. Joshua Henkin has written the characters in such a clear manner that I felt that I knew them -they were my neighbors, my friends, my classmates. I couldn't put the book down, and didn't want it to end. Very rarely is that the case.
Others have stated that not much happens in the book, but I disagree. There aren't car chases or murders, but life happens and goes on even when you don't particullarly want it to.
Profile Image for Mary.
119 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2012
I thought Fall was the time when all the terrific books are released. My last three reads have been outstanding and so far this is still another. It's a great Summer to read! I repeat, the books this Summer are outstanding.

This story takes place in three days, over the 4th of July, as a broken .The family is like most, very complicated. Unlike many war stories, this one is concerned more with the people left behind than the fallen writer. It makes us understand how painful the headlines from war really are, and the toll they take on families. It has implications for loss of any kind. This is not as sad as it sounds; it is just a great read. I deliberately held off reading the last fifty pages or so,it wouldn't have to end.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,443 reviews29.4k followers
June 28, 2012
It's July 4, 2005, exactly one year after Leo Frankel, a newspaper reporter, was killed after being captured while covering the war in Iraq. His family and friends are traveling from across the world to gather in the Berkshires for a memorial service, since his funeral had been such a public spectacle. But as if the stress and grief associated with commemorating Leo's loss isn't enough, each of his family members has their own problems to deal with, as well as their relationships with each other.

His parents, David and Marilyn, have each dealt with their grief differently—Marilyn has become an outspoken critic of the war and President Bush, while David has become more introspective, preferring opera and biographies to confronting his wife's anger. And this is causing their 40-year marriage to dissolve. Leo's oldest sister, Clarissa, is struggling to become pregnant at age 39, which is wreaking havoc on her relationship with her husband, Nathan. Lily is dealing with an inability to effectively deal with her grief and anger, and doesn't want to have to depend on anyone for help, not even her boyfriend of 10 years. And Noelle went from a youth spent mired in promiscuity to a life in Israel, where she and her husband, Amram, are Orthodox Jews raising four boys. Leo's widow, Thisbe, also flies in from California with their three-year-old son, Calder, and she is dealing with secrets of her own, as well as the struggle to keep Calder from forgetting a father he barely knew. As the family gathers, they deal with their own issues and rehash old hurts, and wonder where the future will find them.

When I read Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony a few years ago, I fell in love with it completely, and I couldn't wait for him to write another book. The World Without You hooked me immediately, and if it wasn't for the obligations of work, exercise, and sleep, I would have finished the book in a day or two. Yes, this is a familiar story of family frictions and relationship issues, but the characters Henkin creates, and his terrific storytelling ability, raises the book several notches above your typical family drama. This book deals with questions of family, loss, communication, trust, dependency, anger, and need, and it does so quite skillfully. I don't want to have to wait another few years for Joshua Henkin's next book, but since he's such a great writer, I know it will be worth the wait! (That being said, I just ordered his first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, off of Amazon.)
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
350 reviews394 followers
May 4, 2014


I love how the author shares with us a slice of life. It's like looking in from the outside. All the relationships that exist in families dynamics. When a memorial is planned a year after a brother has died, everyone is drawn together, each with their own ideas, ways of life, and the effect this death brings about. This book explores the many emotions that come after a loved one has died, and even more about what is happening in the lives of various family members. Each character is beautifully drawn out, and the often tenuous ties of family are fully exposed. An excellent read.
Profile Image for Jo Anne B.
235 reviews19 followers
July 17, 2012
This book was very well written. It is a shame that I just didn't like any of the characters or bond with the story. You would think it would be easy to feel sorry for this family having lost Leo in the Iraq war. But Leo's character was never really portrayed. We only got a sense of who he was in a few memories which centered around his siblings. I thought that the family members were so self-centered. It was a mess of a family for sure. They were all so different and cold to each other they didn't even seem related. I couldn't even imagine them close even before Leo died. There was so much tension and resentment between all of them that was not related to Leo's death. It is almost like the background story of Leo dying in Iraq was on the back burner and wasn't even necessary. Yes, it did take the biggest toll on his parents and their marriage suffered because of it. But the book centered on all the dysfunction of all the siblings in their own lives which had nothing to do with Leo dying. This should have just been about a dysfunctional family minus the loss of Leo in Iraq. I would have preferred if this book was more about Leo and what he was like and his interactions with everyone. But I know, the title was all about The World Without You so I shouldn't be complaining about that. I just would have liked to have known more about the "You" we were supposed to be missing.
Profile Image for Sue Seligman.
497 reviews41 followers
January 27, 2013
I really enjoyed reading this very sad, poignant and emotional novel. Leo Frankel, a journalist, has been killed in Iraq on July 4th covering the war during the Bush Administration. A year later his entire family has gathered in the country home in Lenox, Massachusetts for a memorial service. Leo, the youngest of 4 children of David and Marilyn, seemed to serve as the glue that held his family together, even though as an adult he traveled overseas, and lived with his wife and baby in California. His death has left a void with his three sisters and his parents that cannot be easily filled. His parents plan to announce after the service that they are splitting up once they return to their home in New York City. The youngest of the three adult daughters has come from Israel with her husband and four small boys to attend the service. She has adopted an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle there, yet it is evident that her "devotion" to this religious life has not completely allowed her to overcome the challenges of being "different" from her sisters. Noelle had been the black sheep of the family, doing poorly in school and spending too much time with the boys, and it wasn't until she settled in Israel that she turned completely around, alienating many with her judgemental opinions. Clarissa is struggling with infertility issues, and Lily is happy with her partner, no intentions of getting married or having children. Leo's widow and 3 year old son arrive from California; Thisbe is wondering how to break the news that she is moving on and finding happiness with another man. Each character is struggling with their own issues, and it seems as if this is yet another story of a dysfunction Jewish family. However, these people are realistically portrayed, and evoke sympathy and empathy from the reader. I totally related in some way to each of the characters in the story. It was a great portrayal of how the untimely death of a member of a family has far reaching effects on the rest, no matter how old or how far they live. I definitely recommend this realistic fiction novel.
42 reviews
July 8, 2012
A really nice read..... I felt like I knew this family and at times I was part of this family, the Frankels.
The author does such an incredible job narrating this story that takes place
over a long July 4th weekend commemorating the anniversary of the death of their younget sibling, Leo, a journalist killed on assign,et while covering the Iraq war. Leo's unveiling brings together his grieving family gathered to honor his memory.The story begins, as it should, with those who have been dealt the hardest blow, his parents...
Marilyn and. David. It continues to introduce his three siblings and reveal hoe each one is suffering and coping in the after math. Lastly, we meet his grieving young widow as well as his thethree year old son he left behind. It truly is a brilliant slice of life, dramatizing several stories all connected.How each loved one grieves so uniquely..... And how we Humans are so incapable at times of to truly connecting and helping each other in our grief. Nor are we exactly capable. Of making resolutions to do better by those loved ones still with us.
But. Grief is poignant. And universal. And very very human. And this is what the author conveys so masterfully.
Profile Image for Karen Bergreen.
Author 3 books168 followers
July 10, 2012
I read this book in two sittings. It would have been one sitting but kids needed to be fed. I was completely absorbed in the innerworkings of the Frankel family. The oldest genration, grandparents are on the brink of divorce and their three daughters are in crisis. They have come together for the one year memorial service in honor of their brother Leo, who was killed in Iraq. The characters are all intricately fleshed out to the point where I wanted to pick p the phone call each of them and tell them how to resolve all of their problems. But of course, you can't even do that in real life and Henkin presents them all, incredibly flawed and incredibly sympathetic. By the end of the book, I felt as if I went through something. Also, I have read many books and I have never seen a male author portray women as accurately as he did. These women were real to me. If you are looking for a deep read that will keep you turning the pages this is it.
Profile Image for Jessica.
579 reviews27 followers
August 1, 2013
The World Without You begins one year after journalist Leo Frank is murdered in Iraq. His parents, three older sisters, widow and young son gather for a memorial service and in the spaces between their interactions, Henkin outlines the hole left when a family member dies. We don't get to decide how other people grieve and even a tragedy doesn't change the basic relationships between parents and children, between siblings, between families and in-laws.

Henkin offers no easy answer to grief, but he gets all the tiny details that make his characters seem like a real family, and he is particularly gifted in the way he depicts the bonds between siblings and the childhood patterns of behavior that never completely fade from view.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys novels that explore what it means to be both an individual and part of a family. Fifth star awarded because I think Henkin does something extraordinary in his portrayal of siblings.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,690 reviews14k followers
May 22, 2012
3.5 Although there is really nothing too original about this plot it is done wonderfully and interestingly well. Meeting a year after their brother, son and husband has been killed in Iraq, the family holds a memorial service. All the old secrets, hostilities and resentments erupt as the family tries to navigate their way through their new (without Leo) family dynamics. As in all families things are remembered differently by various siblings and despite their now diverse backgrounds they must come to some acceptance. This is a novel showing what it truly means to be part of a family regardless of what is going on in ones own life. The grandmother Gretchen and her vast fortune is an interesting character as is the way the family members view her. All in all a good read. ARC from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Maureen.
634 reviews
July 26, 2012
I really, really liked this novel. I loved all the family dysfunction and the author did a great job fleshing out the central characters. The ending was a bit odd but not so much that it changed my overall feeling about the book. I know there has been some comparisons to the Daniel Pearl story but I really didn't see it other than the son who was a journalist who was killed in Iraq (although Daniel Pearl was killed in Pakistan, not Iraq)- think those comparisons are overblown. Overall a great, fast read and beautifully executed character study.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 12 books1,324 followers
July 7, 2012
This book garnered a lot of good press – a lot. As such my expectations were probably unreasonably high. It centers on a messy New England family who’ve lost their (grown) son in Iraq and who reconvene at their summer house for his one-year memorial. I love big, messy families, especially when there are multiple sisters involved because it sort of reminds me of my own. Alas, I did not love this. There was nothing inherently wrong, it is well-written and the characters are multi-dimensional and vivid (although several of the female characters “like men better” which was kind of cliché and overused). Some characters are better than others, as you’d expect. Ultra-Orthodox Jew Noelle annoyed the crap out of me, though I think that was the point. I wanted more of Lily as well as (and especially) Clarissa and Nathaniel. Clarissa’s infertility is hit hard at the very beginning but the matter is all but dropped until the last few pages. In fact I totally forgot about it.

This shifts viewpoints (close third) and it didn’t really work for me. The initial chapters are long and nothing but background – not a lot actually happens in this novel – so it took me awhile to care about what was going on. I didn’t feel like I knew Leo (the deceased) that well although I have to say my favorite aspect of him is his inexplicable love for the San Diego Chargers. (“’Leo was the world’s most avid Chargers fan,’ Clarissa said. ‘We never knew why he liked them.’ Neither did Thisbe. The more the Chargers lost the more devoted he became; he was, in his own way, a lonely man of faith.”)

[Another sports side note, why is Noelle’s son watching NBA highlights on CNN in July?]

This is a very good study on family dynamics and if you’re looking for a quiet book that deals with this, it’d be hard to beat this. I just found it a little too long and drawn out (which is not to say it’s a long book). Maybe my issue is that the most time is spent on Noelle and I don’t particularly like whiney, formerly slutty religious zealots with loser husbands. You may feel differently. Overall a decent book but nothing I’d necessarily recommend.
Profile Image for John Luiz.
112 reviews16 followers
July 13, 2012
I just finished reading Mark Haddon's Red House about an extended family who gets together at a summer house after a family member's death, and I must say Joshua Henkin's novel offers a far more entertaining and insightful read on a similar vein, and it's also free of the annoying writerly tricks Haddon overused. This book just relies on good storytelling to show how a mother and three sisters and the wife are dealing with the loss of Leo, their son/brother/husband, who, like Daniel Pearl, became a celebrated journalist who was kidnapped and killed (although here it's in Iraq, not Pakistan). Henkin does a marvelous job at showing how each is dealing with their grief, complicated by the ongoing troubles in their lives. The mother is thinking about leaving her husband, the wife is afraid to tell her late husband's family that in the year since her husband died she met and fell in love with another man. The daughters have a whole set of their own problems. One is struggling to have a baby. Another, in perhaps the most intriguing storyline, moved to Israel and became an Orthodox Jewish after spending her teenage years as wild and promiscuous. Henkin has lots of balls to balance and he does the juggling act amazingly well, as he keeps the story lines intriguing around the centering event of them all gathering at the family's home in the Berkshires on the 4th of July for a memorial celebration on the 1-year anniversary of Leo's death. My only minor quibble with the story is that the points of view only shifts between the women - the mother, wife, and three sisters. I would have especially liked to have gone inside the head of the father especially, who feels his son's loss just as strongly as the others and is deeply hurt by his wife's desire to leave him because of the tension that stemmed from their different ways of grieving. Fortunately, his perspective gets conveyed through his interactions with his wife and daughters. It's a great novel with a great sense of place - offering detailed descriptions of the Berkshires as the setting for this family reunion.
Profile Image for Erika.
Author 2 books5 followers
August 15, 2012
I'm surprised how many rave reviews this book has received. I found myself struggling to finish it (and nearly didn't) -- the characters were tiresome and unlikable. Henkin rotates the point of view from character to character, which can be interesting, so I hoped he'd introduce a point of view that felt fresh or compelling. Not so. The arc of the book felt somewhat predictable. Another personal gripe: I just don't cotton to fiction that's written in the present tense. It feels altogether gimmicky.

The two stars remain because Henkin does write beautifully, and the shape of the plot is lovely: a family returns home and is captured in a 3-day period. Still, I regret the time I spent on this when there are so many other yummy books waiting to be read.
193 reviews5 followers
November 12, 2017
A pitch-perfect portrayal of sibling dynamics, family relationships and marital strife within a family rocked by the death of a son/brother/husband. So good. Seriously. Was particularly impressed by how well the author drew his female characters, and how deeply he was able to develop all of the characters within a novel that spanned only three and a half days. The conflicting high and low emotions we feel around family, the way we all regress to our childhood dramas, the meaning of life-it was all in there. It was real, it was palpable, and it was genuine. Loved it.
Profile Image for Nadyne.
662 reviews12 followers
May 25, 2012
First sentence: "'Here', she says, 'I'll get you a sweater.'"

P. 99: ""She's at one baseline with a bucket at her feet, and Clarissa, at the other baseline, also has a bucket."

Last sentence: "Then he's there, her husband, coming down the stairs, his shoes making their syncopated beat, and she's looking up at him, anticipating his voice, waiting to see what comes next.'"

From Amazon: It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.
The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.
Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.
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I loved this book from the first pages and I enjoyed it all the way through. The Frankel family certainly has its problems, but everything is so recognizable and after a real short time it seems you know all these people well and you understand completely why they feel and act the way they do. They are real persons and they all struggle with something, be it grieve, jealousy, guilt, a bad relation, money problems, …, or themselves.

The book has no, what is generally called, good (or fairy) tale ending, and usually I don't like this very much. But the ending is hopeful and it is the right one for this book, because, hey, that's life… When human issues are involved, there can be no conclusive endings, but when everyone tries his best, there will always be hope.

Some other thoughts/reviews:

Our Books Are Better Than We Are: http://ourbooksarebetterthanweare.wor...

Publisher's Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0...

Chazz W.: http://chazzw.wordpress.com/2012/05/0...

Everyday I Write the Book: http://sueysbooks.blogspot.be/2012/06...

nomadreader: http://nomadreader.blogspot.be/2012/0...

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/boo...

An interview with Joshua Henkin on VerbSap (http://www.verbsap.com/07fallnonficti...).

Profile Image for Diane.
734 reviews97 followers
August 6, 2012
Some books are all about plot, some are more character studies. Joshua Henkin's novel, The World Without You falls in the latter category.

The Frankel family, father David and mother Marilyn, are preparing for the arrival of their three daughters, Lily, Clarissa and Noelle, along with their spouses and children, and their daughter-in-law Thisbe with her young son for a memorial service for their son Leo, a journalist murdered last year covering the Iraq War.

The story revolves around how Leo's death has affected the family. Marilyn, a doctor, turned outward; she consistently wrote op-ed pieces for newspapers against the war and worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign. David turned inward, taking up running to deal with his loss.

Marilyn decides that it is too painful to stay married to David and asks him for a divorce; he is devastated by the request. Marilyn intends to tell the family while they are visiting for the memorial, and they are completely blindsided by this announcement.

Henkin makes this characters so real that reading this novel felt like I was eavesdropping on this family during a particularly tough time. They are complicated people, who make mistakes and love and fight and misunderstand and are misunderstood; you know, just like your own family.

"Noelle is her sister, but the fact is they can't stand each other, and when Lily feels uncomfortable she goes for high drama; histrionics is her point at rest."
After a wild, promiscuous adolescence, Noelle moved to Israel, married and became an Orthodox Jew, closely following all rules. She felt that "she was peeling layers of herself, molting an identity she had wanted to molt for years and hadn't realized she was capable of molting."

Clarissa "didn't say a word until she turned three, at which point she began to speak in full sentences. She suspects the story is exaggerated, but it gets at an essential truth about her." Lily "throws herself into things, whereas (Clarissa's) a watcher, she's cautious, she's a student first and she doesn't like to make mistakes."

Henkin's describes his characters as they see themselves and as they are seen by the people who knew them best- their siblings. Anyone with siblings will get that right away.

Thisbe describes what it's like to be a widow:
"Everyone, she thinks, wants to know about the milestones- Leo's birthday, their anniversary- those are hard, of course, but it's the everyday things that are the toughest. When she used to shop for groceries, she would get this cereal Leo liked, Great Grains Raisins, Dates and Pecans, and she mustn't have been thinking because a couple of months she ended up with a box in her shopping cart."
Describing what's it's like to become part of the Frankels, Thisbe says:
"That's one of the things that appealed to me about Leo- the tumult of you Frankels, as if in your presence I am being swallowed by a many-tentacled beast and made into a tentacle myself. Clarissa, Lily and Noelle- you were older by the time I came along, but I still felt that in marrying Leo I was getting you as sisters and when he died, I lost you too. I know that losing a husband is different from losing a sibling, and it's especially different from losing a son."
That paragraph states the theme of this beautiful, insightful novel- loss is different for everyone, and in The World Without You, we see how parents, siblings and spouses deal with that loss and the life that goes on.
Profile Image for Dennis Fischman.
1,334 reviews29 followers
February 28, 2015
I loved this book from the start. The people in it are not remotely like me: they're people for whom New York is an ethnicity, and (except for the oddly named Noelle, who has moved to Israel and become Orthodox), being Jewish is a puzzlement to them. They get together to have a memorial and unveil the tombstone of the only son, a journalist who was killed in Iraq, and they nearly forget to say the kaddish.

But I got involved with them all immediately--the older couple, David and Marilyn, whose son's death has pushed them toward leaving each other; the 39-year-old daughter, Clarissa, who gave up playing the cello and may have to give up her hopes of becoming a mother; the middle daughter, Lily, who has a lawyer's sharp tongue and the best boyfriend of the bunch; Noelle, with her learning disabilities and her sudden passions; Thisbe, the son's widow, an only daughter and a non-Jew who loves this crazy family and fears that to have a future herself, she may have to leave them behind.

The book is beautifully observed and deeply felt. At moments of great sorrow and tenderness, one of the characters comes up with a turn of phrase that's laugh-out-loud funny or break-my-heart wry. I whipped through the book and would love to read it again some day.

My only reservation (and it's odd that a male author is the one who makes me say this) is that the men are nearly not there at all. You don't find out much about David, the paterfamilias, until late in the book, and it's not just that he's an introvert: he's not fully drawn. Clarissa's husband Nathaniel is supposed to be this Nobel-level genius, but she does all the thinking and feeling and he is there to give her someone to answer her back, to move to the next thought. Lily's resterateur boyfriend, Malcolm, is literally not there, at her request, although when he does show up she realizes he should have been there all along. Noelle's husband, Amram ne Arthur, leaves for a long stretch of the book because she's made him angry. He misses his brother-in-law's unveiling, busy being pissed off. I hope Noelle leaves his ass. Even if it means raising four boys on her own, she's practically doing that anyway! So, as I said, Joshua Henkin does not draw any men I'd like to spend time with at all.

The dead brother, Leo, touches me. My own brother Ronald Fischman died by violence at the end of September 2014, and he, too, took risks he shouldn't have, and left us with mixed memories. I do admire the other characters, and the author, for not romanticizing Leo. The book made me cry because I recognized the welter of emotions I have gone through, spread among the various characters. "It's all over," and "waiting to see what comes next," on successive pages: that's life as I know it.
Profile Image for Julia.
2,024 reviews59 followers
April 12, 2013
Please see the four stars as four and a half stars, very close to five...

I quite liked this novel set in Lenox, MA a year after Leo Frankel, a brother, son, husband, father, uncle, journalist was killed in Iraq.

His culturally Jewish family has come together for the Fourth of July weekend for the unveiling of his tombstone and a memorial service. His parents announce early on that after 42 years together they are divorcing. His three sisters and their husbands or partners have come from Israel, where Noelle is an Orthodox Jew and her husband and four young sons are too, but the adults are also insecure jerks. (Once when Amram’s college years are mentioned he attends SUNY Oswego. Many pages later, he is attending SUNY Oneonta.) Clarissa is from Boston, her husband will probably win a Noble Prize, but she is unable to have a baby. Lily and her partner live in Baltimore, where he’s about to get financing to open a gourmet restaurant. Leo’s widow Thisbe (I so wanted someone to remark on her unusual name and no one ever did.) is a graduate student in anthropology at Berkeley and is about to move in with another graduate student.

I liked that James Taylor’s Fourth of July concert at Tanglewood is a backdrop to one scene. I liked that David, Leo’s dad, reports on the store in Lenox, but does not name it, that has a sign, that I have also enjoyed, “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten.” The Frankels’ have summered in Lenox for nearly half a century and have a very different view than I have of Lenox, but I surely recognize theirs.

Received from Amazon Vine Program 4/20/12 in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Wendy.
150 reviews4 followers
September 14, 2013
This novel got good reviews. I think I liked the idea of the book more than the actual book itself. The story and setting were good ones. A family is meeting in Massachusetts for the one year memorial of the death of Leo, a journalist in his early thirties that died in Iraq. At their summer house, Leo's mother and father, his widow and his three sisters arrive, along with the husbands of two of the sisters and several children. Each character's relationship with one another is teased out and Leo's character is developed through the eyes of these family members. We see how the family is coping with Leo's death and to the unraveling of relationships within the family. Some of the characters are not well developed, such as the mother, father and one of the sisters. The idea is that when a family is struck with a huge blow such as a death, the members of the family each deal with it in their own way. Adjustments occur, not always for the better. They must learn to carry on in the world without the person who has died. The crux of the story is that changes occur in these characters and the event of the memorial serves to unveil a new balance in the way they relate to one another. While I admire the approach to the story, I didn't really like these characters very much and so did not feel much affinity to them. Without affection for the characters, I found myself not caring much how it turned out. And while it did have a hopeful ending, I wished the author had made me feel more emotion about it.
Profile Image for Laurel.
593 reviews13 followers
December 4, 2013
This is a wonderful look at the emotional life of a mostly secular Jewish family facing the one year anniversary of the death of the youngest son in Bush's war. It follows each member of the family through the three days they meet for a memorial service, in what will probably be the last time, at the family's vacation home Western MA. The family is far flung: Israel, New York, and in the case of the widow, California. The reader enters the private life of each of the siblings, parents, wife and grandmother in Henkin's story. We explore each character's past and current emotional and physical space as well as their reaction to the death. There is much drama throughout, and a bittersweet ending. I have read Henkin before and enjoy his prose.
Profile Image for Sherie.
693 reviews11 followers
October 28, 2012
The reason I chose to read this is because so many readers thought it was the bees' knees. The the characters and their interaction with others seemed to be stilted and canned. The reasons given for Marilyn and David's planned separation lacked any depth or sound judgement. David was practically a 2-dimensional character. Noelle's character seemed to be focused on being as troublesome as she could be and Amram, her husband, like David, seemed to lack depth.
I read kept reading because I thought it was going to get better and reveal something, but it never did.
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